March 19, 2019

The oldest freshman in Congress gets back to basics in Miami

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@NewsBySmiley and @Kyra Gurney

Donna Shalala is an analog politician in a digital age.

Not one to talk in 280-character soundbites, the 78-year-old congresswoman is reconnecting with her constituents after two months in Washington in an old-fashioned way: face-to-face conversations.

On Monday, for the second time since she became the second-oldest freshman in U.S. history, Shalala stood in front of a room of constituents from Florida’s 27th Congressional District during a town hall and fielded questions about guns, anti-Semitism and Donald Trump. The Miami Democrat will host five more gatherings before the end of May, including another Wednesday at the Palmetto Bay Municipal Center.

Shalala, who billed the event as a town hall on guns, touted legislation she’s supported to strengthen gun laws, including a bill passed by the House last month that mandates federal criminal background checks on all firearm sales.

Read more here.

March 07, 2019

National Democrats begin defense of Mucarsel-Powell's seat

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@alextdaugherty

National Democrats spent millions to get Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell into office last year. 

Now, they're beginning their effort to keep her there. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Thursday that Mucarsel-Powell's district is one of a few dozen across the country where it's spending early money on grassroots organizers. Mucarsel-Powell is one of 44 House Democrats who are part of the organization's "Frontline" program to protect incumbents who may face competitive reelection bids. 

The DCCC said the investment is a "multi-million dollar effort to defend and expand the new Democratic Majority." It declined to disclose the exact amount of money being spent in Florida, though they are also spending money in a Tampa-area seat held by Republican Rep. Ross Spano

"As Democrats, we’ve always drawn our strength from the people we fight for each and every day – that’s why I’m so proud to announce that, in our first major investment of the 2020 cycle, we are launching March Forward to put boots on the ground in dozens of communities across America,” said DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos. "Our March Forward Field Managers will play a vital role in our work to not just defend, but expand our new Democratic majority. By organizing early and aggressively, we will March Forward to build a better future for all Americans by winning on the doors, online and on the ballot in 2020."

The DCCC plans to hire almost 60 organizers around the country who will work on communications, digital, research and field tactics before the 2020 campaign gears up. 

Mucarsel-Powell was also named on the National Republican Congressional Committee's target list for 2020 along with Miami Rep. Donna Shalala. Both flipped Republican-held seats in 2018, though Mucarsel-Powell's seat is generally regarded as the more competitive of the two. 

February 28, 2019

Gaetz laughs off Florida Bar inquiry, says he didn’t talk about Cohen with Trump

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@alextdaugherty

Matt Gaetz isn’t backing down.

The two-term congressman from the Florida Panhandle laughed off a Florida Bar inquiry into his tweets, which claimed, the night before former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified in a congressional hearing, that Cohen had extramarital relations, statements that invited claims of witness intimidation.

And he also vigorously denied claims that he’s been in touch with anyone at the White House regarding Cohen’s testimony this week, after a reporter said Gaetz had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump while the president was in Vietnam negotiating with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Recent conversations between Trump and Gaetz could mean that the president is coordinating with allies to discredit Cohen.

Gaetz, who said any reporting of phone conversations with the president this week was #FakeNews, paused when asked if he spoke with anyone at the White House this week.

“Not this week,” Gaetz said. “Wait I take that back, I had an unrelated conversation about trade with someone. Nothing about Cohen or any of that.”

Gaetz is one of Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress, frequently appearing on cable television and earning Trump’s respect and trust. He later apologized for his Cohen tweet and said Thursday that he reached out to Cohen via text message.

“I told him I was sorry and I shouldn’t have mentioned his family,” Gaetz said. “He appreciated that I acknowledged that mistake on my part. He asked me to publicly ask folks to leave his family alone and I thought that was a fair request.”

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Dems want Acosta out over Epstein. GOP wants to know more... Then there’s Matt Gaetz

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@alextdaugherty

Democrats are calling for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s resignation. Republicans support an internal investigation into Acosta’s role in a controversial plea deal for multimillionaire sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein in 2008.

But Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of President Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress, is taking a different approach.

In an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday, Gaetz said reexamining Acosta’s handling of Epstein’s case, which came under increased scrutiny after the Herald’s three-part series Perversion of Justice, sets a “dangerous” precedent for prosecutors. A federal judge ruled last week that prosecutors run by Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for South Florida, broke the lawwhen they failed to inform Epstein’s underge victims of the plea agreement. The judge gave federal prosecutors 15 days to confer with Epstein’s victims and their attorneys to come up with a resolution. 

“I don’t know what I don’t know and certainly if there is ever an indication of misconduct, that has to be thoroughly reviewed, but I think it’s a dangerous thing to go back and second-guess decisions that prosecutors have to make in real time,” Gaetz said. “I’m deeply troubled by Mr. Epstein’s actions, I think that he certainly should have faced a far stiffer consequence than he did, but having tried cases I know that it’s hard to go back and sort of second-guess the risk analysis that goes into putting witnesses before a jury and subjecting them to cross examination.”

Read more here.

January 15, 2019

Hallandale official faces backlash for saying Muslim lawmaker may ‘blow up’ Congress

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@blaskey_s @alextdaugherty

A rookie commissioner from a South Florida beach city is facing calls for her resignation after she called newly elected Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib a “danger” and said the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress may decide to become a “martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

From Washington to South Florida, the post has been called “indefensible” and “racist.”

“That’s terrible,” Tlaib said when informed of the Facebook post by the Miami Herald. She said the comments were part of a national campaign to penalize supporters of Palestinian rights.

Five days after Tlaib made national headlines for a vow to help fellow Democrats “impeach the mother------,” a reference to President Donald Trump, Hallandale Beach commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub signed an online petition to remove Tlaib from office. She then shared it on Facebook along with racially charged comments first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Proudly signed,” the first-term South Florida commissioner wrote when she shared a “We the People” petition on Facebook. “A Hamas-loving anti-Semite has NO place in government! She is a danger and [I] would not put it past her to become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald her support for removing Tlaib from office had little to do with the possible offense Tlaib caused Trump and his supporters. She also ignored critics who called for an immediate apology for the offensive post, and instead justified her actions by pointing to Tlaib’s stance on Israel.

“My issue with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is her affiliation with the BDS movement, Hamas, Hezbollah and CAIR,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald. (BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.) CAIR-Florida called for Lima-Taub’s immediate resignation after learning of the post.

“To say someone might be a terrorist because they are Muslim is wrong,” said Hallandale Beach Commissioner Mike Butler. He said members of all faiths are welcome in the South Florida City.

Read more here

January 14, 2019

Florida U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings announces he has pancreatic cancer

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@davidjneal @alextdaugherty

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Broward County Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress from Florida, announced Monday afternoon that he has pancreatic cancer and is undergoing treatment in Washington at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hastings, 82, said he feels optimistic about his prognosis.

“I was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in the midst of this traumatizing news, I found myself wondering not only if I would survive this disease, but also if it would impact my ability to perform my duties,” Hastings said in a statement. “Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional district and the nation.”

The recent diagnosis hasn’t affected his attendance in Congress. Hastings has showed up for every recorded vote since the new Congress began on January 3rd.

In an interview with the Miami Herald on Friday, Hastings, known for his colorful criticism of President Donald Trump, blasted the president’s handling of the ongoing government shutdown. He also talked with Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney about bringing climate change experts to testify in Washington before Florida’s congressional delegation.

“Do the visual of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands losing their hospitals, do the visual of a whole town obliterated in fire and now he’s going to come and say because a handful of people are trying to come to this country that’s a national emergency?” Hastings said when asked about Trump reportedly considering disaster relief funds to build a border wall. “Come on.”

Hastings was elected to Congress in 1993, the first elected African-American congressman from Florida since reconstruction. He represents a left-leaning majority-minority district that includes Miramar, Fort Lauderdale and parts of West Palm Beach. Hastings was a federal judge from 1979 through 1989, losing his seat after being impeached for bribery and perjury by the House of Representatives and convicted by the U.S. Senate. He easily won reelection in 2018 after defeating a little-known primary challenger and a write-in candidate.

More here.

January 03, 2019

Marco Rubio wants air conditioning in Miami’s public housing

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@joeflech

As the 116th Congress opens this week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has filed a bill that aims to encourage the federal government to require air conditioning in public housing, which could impact South Florida as average temperatures continue to rise each year.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not mandate air conditioning in federally subsidized housing, a fact highlighted in August by the Miami Herald after the city of Miami gave Miami-Dade’s public housing department $15,000 to purchase and install 51 through-the-wall units for residents in Liberty Square, the country’s oldest public housing complex. Though the county has required all new and redeveloped units to have air conditioning since 2001, older units are not a part of this requirement.

Miami-Dade’s director of public housing, Michael Liu, told the Herald last year that the government doesn’t provide enough funding for the county’s overall cost to maintain its public housing stock, including the price of providing air conditioning. 

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Rubio, R-FL, is proposing the “Safe Temperature Act,” a measure that would give HUD Secretary Ben Carson the ability to use federal dollars to install air conditioning in public housing and privately-owned units funded with federal assistance. The law would allow Carson to ensure temperatures in public housing stays between 71 degrees and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

But the bill does not mandate air conditioning, nor does it provide additional funding to pay for it. Without teeth in the law, Rubio would have to push HUD to implement the rule in places like Miami, and the senator could advocate to steer more dollars to HUD through his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Because air conditioning has never been a requirement under federal law, there is no accounting for how many units don't have cooling systems. Miami-Dade has begun redevelopment or rebuilt more than 2,500 units over the past five years, increasing the number of units with air conditioning.

The Safe Temperature Act is one of two bills Rubio has filed that could impact Liberty City. The senior senator from Florida also plans to reintroduce the Liberty City Rising Act, a public safety package that would beef up security measures for public housing. Rubio first introduced the bill last year after visiting Liberty Square following a series of shootings that rocked the community, spurred a high school student protest against gun violence and attracted much media attention. The law would require dead-bolt locks on entry doors, covers on security camera boxes and covered security camera wires and smoke detectors in common areas.

In a statement this week, Rubio recalled speaking to the Liberty City community last year as he pledged to get the two laws passed.

“I will work to pass the Liberty City Rising Act and the Safe Temperature Act as a means to ensure that communities, like Liberty Square, are held to higher safety standards so that these families can raise their children in safe and sanitary living conditions.”

Experts have warned that one of the consequences of climate change is a public health crisis stemming from a lack of reprieve for people who live in increasingly hot places. The U.S. government has warned that soaring temperatures associated with climate change will exacerbate underlying health issues — and poor, urban communities are among the most at risk. Disadvantaged communities are more likely to have a harder time escaping the heat.

Rubio's bill does not mention climate change. The senator has acknowledged that climate change has been measured by scientists and is at least in part caused by human activity, but he has said he wouldn't "destroy the economy" over it and favors mitigation, water management and hardening infrastructure over changes to energy policy.

December 10, 2018

Mucarsel-Powell chief of staff pick has Capitol Hill experience

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@alextdaugherty

Congresswoman-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has named former Bill Nelson and State Department advisor Laura Rodriguez as her first chief of staff. 

In Rodriguez, the first-time lawmaker is tapping someone with experience on Capitol Hill. Rodriguez worked for the State Department's legislative affairs bureau during the Obama administration where she was the point person for the House of Representatives. She also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in addition to advising Nelson. 

"As someone who was raised in the district, Laura is very familiar with the needs of the communities I will represent," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. "Her experience working on Capitol Hill and her work ethic will serve our district very well."
 
"As a woman, mother, and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Congresswoman-Elect Mucarsel-Powell is an inspiration for me personally," Ms. Rodriguez said in a statement. "Her legislative agenda to help all residents of her District access affordable healthcare, fight for common sense gun reform, addressing the unique challenges South Florida faces with Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise and protecting our environment are exactly what her District and our country need." 
 
Mucarsel-Powell will be sworn in alongside newly elected Miami Rep. Donna Shalala on January 3rd after defeating Republican Carlos Curbelo last month.

December 07, 2018

‘A freshman, but not a rookie’: Donna Shalala starts her new career in Congress

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@alextdaugherty

As Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York shivered while waiting for the official House of Representatives photo on a cold November morning outside the U.S. Capitol, Donna Shalala was nice and toasty.

Freshman members of Congress were required to ditch their jackets for the group photo, so Shalala, ever the Miamian, waited until the last possible second to join the group without layers in the 30-degree weather.

She’s used to Washington.

Shalala, 77, who will become the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in U.S. history, greets constituents and fellow lawmakers with the slogan, “I may be a freshman, but I’m not a rookie.” She claims to have found a 15-minute commute from her Georgetown condo to Capitol Hill, a product of her years of working within the highest levels of government and preference for rising early.

After a long career as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, leading the University of Miami and a stint as the head of the Clinton Foundation, Shalala is excited to become a low-ranking cog in a 435-person lawmaking body that recently earned a lower approval rating than cockroaches and traffic jams.

“I’m the only one walking around saying this is going to be fun. Everyone else looks tense,” Shalala said.

At least in official channels, Shalala won’t have much power. She can’t lead a committee as a first-year member, and ascending the leadership rung takes time. She hasn’t been assigned to any committees yet, but is looking to sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee or another committee that is likely to address healthcare, though major policy changes are unlikely until at least 2021.

“Certainly, in the first year I’m trying to stay focused,” Shalala said. “The people in this district have a handful of things that they’d like us to do. I listened to the people’s priorities and they made it very clear that they’re deeply concerned about healthcare and obviously about immigration, the environment and sensible gun control.”

But Shalala’s advantage over her peers is that she already knows the key players. Nancy Pelosi has already assured Shalala that she will be a part of any high-level policy discussions related to healthcare, Shalala said.

Read more here.

December 06, 2018

‘Trumpism isn’t the future’: Ousted Miami Republican reflects on election loss

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@alextdaugherty

Carlos Curbelo couldn’t win a two-front war.

National Democrats spent more money in Curbelo’s district than any other across the country on a healthcare-centric TV campaign. Donald Trump spent the final stretches of the campaign attacking immigrants, which didn’t help Curbelo in his majority-Hispanic district months after he led an unsuccessful GOP rebellion to force Congress to act on the issue.

And Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, avoided strategic and ethical blunders that plagued former Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat Curbelo beat in 2014 and 2016.

The combination added up to a 1.8 percentage point loss.

“I think the number one factor in my race was spending,” Curbelo said, as he worked out of a Washington coffee shop during his final weeks in office. “We got outspent significantly and a lot of the casual voters that showed up, especially late, voted straight ticket Democrat and I’d say that was really what made the difference. The barrage of ads and negative attacks do work, as much as everyone says they hate them.”

Curbelo’s assessment of his race is a hat tip to national Democrats, who considered it a personal affront that he was able to win, by more than 11 percentage points, the most Democratic-leaning seat in the country held by a Republican in 2016. Instead of repeating mistakes like backing Annette Taddeo’s failed primary campaign against Garcia two years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Mucarsel-Powell to enter the race early and began a campaign focused on healthcare in a district where nearly 100,000 people are enrolled in Obamacare. The DCCC spent just under $7.2 million to defeat Curbelo, the most the group spent in any race across the country. The haul was the largest share of $20.1 million spent on TV ads in the district by campaigns and outside groups from both parties, according to Advertising Analytics. House Majority PAC, a super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats, also spent about $2.5 million on TV ads in the district.

More here.